Sunday, May 20, 2012

Existence and the enlargement principle

In my earlier post I argued that the 'thin conception' of existence does not involve any obvious circularity.  We define the verb 'exists' in terms of the following equivalence

"An American philosopher exists" is(def) equivalent to "some philosopher is American"

The verb 'exists' only appears on the left hand side of the definition, and so the definition is not circular, by the definition of circularity.  To the objection that the right hand side has an elided adjective 'existing', i.e. that the definition should really be

"An American philosopher exists" is(def) equivalent to "some existing philosopher is American"

I appealed to what I will call the 'enlargement principle'.  This is the principle that any adjective or qualifying term must, if it is to be meaningful, enlarge the conception signified by the term that it contracts. Thus 'blue' enlarges the concept signified by 'buttercup' when we attach the terms to form the composite 'blue buttercup'. Thus it is meaningful.  But 'existing' does not enlarge the concept signified by 'American philosopher', for the sentence 'some philosopher is American' already states that an American philosopher is existing.

Against.  Consider the concept signified by 'character in War and Peace'. There are hundreds of such characters.  Some of these, such as Napoleon and the Czar of Russia, and the Russian general whose name I have forgotten, are or were historical characters.  So they are existent in some sense (i.e. they used to exist, or exist in the afterlife).  Others, such as Prince Bolkonsky or Natasha, never existed at all.  So the contracting term 'existing' or 'historical' does enlarge the conception signified by the term it is attached to.  And it does diminish the extension of the contracted term.   The total number of characters in the book is large, but decreases significantly when we consider only the real historical ones.  Thus the term 'existing' or 'historical' or 'real' is meaningful, and a real predicate. Thus the thin conception of existence does involve circularity.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Jason Hills said...

I thought Maverick's post was about something else, e.g., whether existence is a predicate or predicable and its relation to thisness. What is the relation of your last two posts to that?

1:36 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

In his post here he says that the argument for the thin conception of being is 'blatantly circular'. It is his argument for the circularity that I am engaging with.

3:05 pm  
Blogger Jason Hills said...

Yes, so I presume that you are engaging his statement that "existence is equivocal" (paraphrase). He then gives the example of the instantiation of a concept as existing and the singularly existing Peter the Philosopher, and argues that the logical instantiation of existence is equivocal. You are that it is not. So far, this is familiar territory even to non-specialists, but I have the feeling that you both are saying more than this.

Other than a repetition of your original argument, which appears to be a historical one, it is not clear what you are offering, though I may have missed it.

So, what is existence such that a logical formulation does it justice? Isn't that the locus of concern. I have no idea, by the way.

3:28 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

No, I am engaging his argument that runs "Third, to account for the existence of an individual in terms of the instantiation of some concept or property is blatantly circular: if a first-level property instantiated,then it is instantiated by something that exists. "

That is his entire argument, as far as I can see. I'll see if I can dig up another.

3:39 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

Here's another, slightly longer version of the argument.

Now either x exists or it does not.

Suppose it does not. Then we have instantiation without existence. If so, then existence cannot be instantiation. For example, let C be the concept winged horse and let x be Pegasus. The latter instantiates the former since Pegasus is a winged horse. But Pegasus does not exist. So existence cannot be the second-level property of instantiation if we allow nonexistent objects to serve as instances of concepts.

Now suppose that x exists. Then the theory is circular: it presupposes and does not eliminate first-level existence. The concept blogging philosopher is instantiated by me, but only because I possess first-level existence. One cannot coherently maintain that my existence consists in my instantiating that concept or any concept for the simple reason that (first-level) existence is what makes it possible for me to instantiate any concept in the first place."

3:42 pm  
Blogger Jason Hills said...

Ed,

I don’t see how we’re not looking at the same thing; your selection is part of what I indicate. As I interpret your selection, he’s making a distinction between the “instantiation of some concept” and “instantiated by something that exists [and not of some concept].” This is evidenced in his example, wherein the instantiation of “some philosophers” is not the same as “Peter,” and we would equivocate to presume otherwise.

This is how I am interpreting it, and I really wish I could leave comments on his blog.

What I think is lurking in the background is the priority of logic in ontology. That is, does instantiation imply existence? But if it does we have a counter-example in Pegasus. If it does, then what is the difference between logical instantiation and actual existence? If we presume that logical instantiation and actual existence are distinct, then we expect there to be a difference. Perhaps Maverick is saying that the translations you propose violates this?

So, your additional appears to confirm rather than disconfirm my original interpretation, and hopefully I am not committing confirmation bias.

Must logic be onto-logical? I say no, instantiation does not imply existence. Hence, when I do foray into metaphysics, I employ "ontological logics;" I shift logics wherein abduction is the ultimate inference. But I suspect you are more savvy on this than I.

3:58 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>I interpret your selection, he’s making a distinction between the “instantiation of some concept” and “instantiated by something that exists [and not of some concept].”

Yes, he is, but he needs to justify that distinction against someone who is defining existence in terms of concept instantiation. Then of course a concept is instantiated by something that exists, because we have defined existence as concept-instantiation. He argues that this definition is circular, but I don't follow why so. A definition is circular only if the same word occurs on the right and the left. But the thin definition does not have the same word on right and left.

>>That is, does instantiation imply existence?

Only in the way that being mutton imples being lamb, according to the thin theorist.

>>But if it does we have a counter-example in Pegasus.

Now that's a good argument, but it requires the premiss that something (namely Pegasus) does not exist. But that is Meinongianism, which Bill rejects.

>>If we presume that logical instantiation and actual existence are distinct, then we expect there to be a difference. Perhaps Maverick is saying that the translations you propose violates this?

Well if there is a difference, then certainly. But the only argument he gives is that the definition is circular, and it's not obviously circular.

4:15 pm  
Blogger Jason Hills said...

A definition is circular only if the same word appears on right and left? If we can defeat circularity by changing words, then I would claim that merely changing the name is an ad hoc hypothesis and thus fallacious. Your definition of “circular” is insufficient if we are talking about existence and not the logical representation of existence. I note that your rebuttals constantly retrench a logical rather than metaphysical position, but that is what I would challenge. I mentioned shifting logics when doing metaphysical speculation, and I suspect you reject that move.

But you still have a point; Maverick hasn’t explained any of this.

What is Meinongianism?

I do think that there is a sense in which “Pegasus” exists, i.e., intension without extension, but that is besides the point in this conversation. Blah, now Russel and Frege are haunting my mind.

In conclusion, it does appear that your point about his lack of explanation stands, but that said, it also appears that his challenge stands. Maybe if I knew about that theory, which you have mentioned before, then I would see.

Hopefully the SEP article on “fiction” will explain help me out, since it has a section on this.

4:45 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>A definition is circular only if the same word appears on right and left? If we can defeat circularity by changing words, then I would claim that merely changing the name is an ad hoc hypothesis and thus fallacious.

Then we fundamentally disagree. As I explained in the original post, a definition only works if the concepts are the same on both sides. With a definition, you explain a word which X does not understand, in terms of words that X does understand.

Perhaps you mean something else by 'definition'.

>>What is Meinongianism?

Goodness.

5:01 pm  
Blogger Jason Hills said...

Don't bother. The SEP entry was very self-explanatory. There, they discuss the issues of modal instantiation in the context of differing views of neo-Ms. I may not be a logician, but I was a mathematician, which translates nicely.

In that case, I wonder if modal instantiation--and their examples mirror Maverick's--implies being an M. I don't see it.

Are you sure that he is 1) not holding that position and/or 2) that what he says implies that position.

6:29 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

Bill has frequently said he is not a Meinongian.

7:08 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

There's more to a definition than just coming up with a synonym.

10:03 pm  

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